Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 25, 2024 6:45 pm 
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A single father finds out he is soon to die and looks for a family to adopt his little boy

The film is set in Northern Ireland and the father John, sensitively played by James Norton, is a window washer soon to die of an unspecified disease with no family. Social services are providing care for him with 4-year-old Michael (Daniel Lamont) and helping him interview potential adoptive parents. (The whole screenplay was spun out of a notice the filmmaker found in a newspaper.)

The threat of sentimentalism inherent in the premise is off-putting and the idea of using a small boy in such a role feels uncomfortable. Which is silly because the topic is serious and child actors just like playing roles, at best anyway. In the event, Lamont beautifully creates on screen this thoughtful, introspective boy with eloquent eyes. The older actor and the younger show a profound rapport developed offscreen.

The film alternates sessions where John plays with the boy or takes him to and from school and when he seeks prospective adoptive parents. It seems a rather unusual process, his interviewing them, in the company of Shona (Eileen O’Higgins), a young adoption agency trainee, with the boy in tow not knowing what it's about but perhaps gradually guessing.

So we review with John the quickly rejected "smug poshos" (as Cath Clarke's Guardian review calls them); the couple who say they were hoping for a baby; a man who has a rabbit and disses dogs, while Michael has expressed his longing for a puppy. Several couples are "cartoonishly awful" (Clarke) which is "jarring". The right one is obvious, though deciding still seems impossible anyway.

Perhaps the film's greatest success, apart the justly praised quality of not being maudlin (even if steering narrowly close), is the portrait it draws, thanks to the actor and restrained but clear writing, of a working man with a tough childhood and a wild youth behind him who turned into a mensch when his wife abruptly returned to her native Russia after their baby's birth and he committed to raising the boy alone. James Norton plays this, and all the little tests of daily inner farewells to life and the boy he loves and has lovingly raised and the people met with day to day who fall short.

He's not always saintly. When a jerk trashes his window-washing he tells him "I am not your mate" and comes back and throws eggs at the windows.

John draws out the choosing far beyond the limits of the agency's practice and there's pressure to decide. He avoids telling Michael anything, though the boy must absorb some of what's pending. He hears "adopt" and asks what it is, and when told, tells his dad, "I don't want to adopt." Only near the end Michael pulls out the recommended book on death for small children, When Dinosaurs Die. The rapport of the two actors renders this moment both mysterious and satisfying.

This movie has a keen eye for the undesirable person and the worthy one. But in its care to avoid sentimentality, at times it becomes stingy of emotion and incident. Nonetheless it does lead us through some hard thinking about life's most crucial leave-taking and truth-telling moments.

Writer-director Uberto Pasolini, who was born in Rome, is a nephew of the director Luchini Visconti and related to the Pasolini dall'Onda winemaking family rather than Pier Paolo. His two other most recent films also concern dying without family members to help.

Nowhere Special, 95 mins., debuted Sept. 10, 2020 at Venice, showing at many other international festivals in 2020 and 2021. It released in cinemas Jul. 16, 2021 in the UK and Ireland, and in numerous other countries. Its US theatrical release comes Apr. 26, 2024 in New York and Los Angeles. Expanding May 10. Metacritic rating: 72%.

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